ASSC 17 Symposia

July 13th (1030-1230):

The role of prefrontal cortex in conscious experience

Chair: Richard Brown (Dep’t of Philosophy, CUNY)

One major divide in consciousness theory is that between higher-order and first-order theories. Inter- preted anatomically, first-order theories of consciousness maintain that consciousness will depend on the activity in the sensory cortices alone while higher-order theories deny that and maintain that consciousness will be reflected, at least in part, in activity of higher-order areas of the brain, most likely frontal-parietal regions.

Virtually all theories of consciousness have a stake in this debate. For instance, besides higher-order thought, and self representational views, Global Workspace Theory, and Information Integration Theory can be seen as versions of higher-order theory in that they posit a role for prefrontal areas in conscious perception, at least in some cases. Also in addition to first-order representation views, recurrent feedback, and attention-based theories can all be seen as versions of the first-order view.

This symposium will bring together two neuroscientists and two philosophers to present the empirical and philosophical case for and against the involvement of the prefrontal cortex in conscious experience.

  • Local neuronal “ignitions” and perceptual awareness
    Rafi Malach (Dep’t of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Tel Aviv, IL)
  • Three Problems for Higher-Order Thought Theories
    Joseph Levine (Dep’t of Philosophy, U. Massachusetts, Amherst)
  • Higher order attentional contributions to subjective perception
    Dobromir Rahnev (Dep’t of Philosophy, U. California, Berkeley)
  • Consciousness without first-order representations
    Richard Brown (Dep’t of Philosophy, CUNY)

July 14th (1030-1230):

Projecting bodily consciousness: How the body affects consciousness in personal, peripersonal and interpersonal space

Chairs: Olaf Blanke (Cognitive Neuroscience, Ecole Polytechnique, Lausanne, CH),
Thomas Metzinger (Dep’t of Philosophy, Universität Mainz, DE)

Philosophy of mind, cognitive neuroscience, and neurology stress the importance of bodily input in forming of the experience of self and person. Such bodily aspects of self-consciousness have been shown to arise from the complex integration of interoceptive and exteroceptive body-related signals. An intrigu- ing aspect of bodily self consciousness is that it is not limited to the body itself, but also depends on stimuli related to external objects and in turn influences the experience of the external world. In this sense, bodily self-consciousness extends beyond the limits of our body over the space around us (i.e. peripersonal space) and impacts the interaction with other humans.

The presentations of this symposium will highlight complementary findings from multisensory, motor, and affective approaches and discuss their relavance for self-consciousness. Roy Salomon will focus on how bodily information, that has been shown to alter self-consciousness, can also modulate visual consciousness.

Andrea Serino will show how the boundaries of peripersonal space adapt when interacting with objects and others. Federique de Vignemont will extend the notion of embodiment to the study of social interactions and intersubjectivity.

  • Body-building-awareness: Bodily factors shaping our consciousness
    Roy Salomon (Cognitive Neuroscience, Ecole Polytechnique, Lausanne, CH)
  • Spatial boundaries of Body-self Consciousness
    Andrea Serino (Cognitive Neuroscience, U. Bologna, IT )
  • Seeing other people’s bodies
    Frédérique de Vignemont (Dep’t of Philosophy, Institut Jean Nicod/CNRS, Paris, FR)

July 15th (0930-1130):

Beyond the contrastive method: How to separate the neural correlates of consciousness from its precursors and consequences

Chair: Lucia Melloni (Dep’t of Neurophysiology, MPI Frankfurt, DE/Columbia University)

The most prevalent approach to study the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) today is to contrast conditions in which conscious perception occurs with conditions in which it does not. Here, conscious- ness is treated as the dependent variable and then correlated with brain activity. This “contrastive method” has brought about important insights into the NCC. However, despite this apparently straight- forward approach, results are inconclusive and contradictory (e.g., it is still debated whether the NCC occurs early or late, or whether it is expressed in local or distributed brain activity). This discord can be understood when considering a methodological pitfall in the contrastive method: The contrast between conscious perception and unconscious processing confounds the NCC with processes that necessarily precede and follow conscious perception (pre-NCC and post-NCC, respectively) without directly contrib- uting to subjective experience.

It is not straightforward to arbitrate which previous results address the NCC-proper and which reflect other processes. In this symposium we will outline the shortcomings of the contrastive analysis, put forward a new taxonomy that differentiates the processes besetting the NCC- proper, and propose novel experimental approaches to dissociate the NCC-proper from its antecedents and consequences. We review M-EEG and ECOG studies that have employed these new approaches to probe which neural process directly correspond to the NCC. This evidence suggests that previous results may have indeed missed the NCC and reported pre-NCC/post-NCCs. Finally, we will discuss how this new taxonomy relates to prevalent theories of consciousness, arguing that some theories might be about post-NCCs instead of NCC.

  • Distilling the Neural Correlates of Consciousness
    Lucia Melloni (Dep’t of Neurophysiology, MPI Frankfurt/Columbia University)
  • Using MEG to track conscious access and its non-conscious consequences
    Stanislas Dehaene, Lucie Charles (Inserm-CEA Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit, Paris, FR)
  • Isolating NCCs that are necessary and sufficient for visual awareness
    Michael Pitts (Dep’t of Psychology, Reed College)
  • Core vs. Total NCC
    Ned Block (Dep’t of Philosophy, New York University)

July 15th (1630-1830):

Ethical implications of detecting covert awareness in disorders of consciousness

Chairs: Adrian M. Owen (Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging, Western University, Ontario, CA),
Andrew Peterson (Rotman Institute of Philosophy, Western University, Ontario, CA)

Recent findings in cognitive neuroscience (Monti et al .2010, Owen et al.2006) suggest that functional mag- netic resonance imaging (fMRI) may be a viable means for detecting covert awareness in the vegetative state (VS). This research opens a promising new avenue for developing brain-computer interfaces (Naci et al. 2012) that compliment the current diagnostic criteria of disorders of consciousness (DOC), thereby increasing the effectiveness of diagnostic screening in this patient group. Given the high rate of misdiagno- sis in this population (Andrews et al. 1996, Childs et al. 1993), actively seeking out patients, who retain conscious awareness despite a clinical diagnosis of VS, is of the highest importance. Moreover, this tech- nique may also permit patients, who are consciously aware and have high levels of preserved cognition, to meaningfully engage in the decision making process related to their own medical care. To date, one patient, previously diagnosed as vegetative for approximately five years, was able to successfully answer a series of autobiographical ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions correctly overrepeated fMRI scanning sessions (Montietal.2010).

A natural step forward in this research program, therefore, is to apply similar neuroimaging methods to address medical questions relevant to individual DOC patients (Peterson et al. in preparation). Though these scientific findings appear highly promising in principle, incorporating any neuroimaging--based method into clinical setting will require satisfaction of established ethical and legal norms of medical practice. In particular, these concerns include: determining how information acquired from such techniques will be disclosed to patients’ families, what the cost of running such tests will be, whether any individual DOC patient is capable of making medically relevant decisions with these techniques, and what type of ques- tions we ought to be asking this patient population. We propose a symposium that brings together three different perspectives on this problem: neuroscience, neurology, and clinical ethics.

The first perspective, offered by Drs. Lorina Naci PhD and Daniel Bor PhD, both neuroscientists working with these neuroimaging paradigms, will shed light on practical obstacles and ways forward focusing neuroimaging to assess residual cognition in DOC patients.

The second perspective, offered by Dr. Bryan Young MD, a clinical neurologist working directly with this patient group, will highlight the difficulties as well as the potential that neuroim- aging holds for DOC patients in the medical setting.

Finally, Dr. Charles Weijer MD, PhD and Andrew Peterson MA, both medical ethicists and philosophers of science, will offer views on the overarching ethical standards relevant to this research. Dr. Adrian M. Owen, a neuroscientist working in this field, will chair the session.

We hope that this interdisciplinary approach will facilitate a novel and productive conversation about the merits of this research and future directions for using it in the clinical setting.

  • Using fMRI to assess conscious awareness in patients with disorders of consciousness– practical considerations
    Lorina Naci (Experimental Psychology, Western University, Ontario, CA)
  • Using multiple neuroimaging techniques to assess the quality of conscious awareness in DOC patients
    Daniel Bor (Cognitive Neuroscience, Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, University of Sussex, Brighton, U.K.)
  • Obstacles at the interface between advances in cognitive neuroscience and clinical practice
    Bryan Young (Neurology and Critical Care Medicine, Western University, Ontario, CA)
  • Conceptual foundations for assessing decision-making capacity in disorders of consciousness
    Andrew Peterson (Rotman Institute of Philosophy, Western University, Ontario, CA)
  • Navigating the transition between research and treatment when integrating novel neuroimaging techniques in medical practice
    Charles Weijer (Bioethics, Rotman Institute of Philosophy, Western University, Ontario, CA)